- (PHOTO) REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Kobe Bryant returned to the Los Angeles Lakers in a practice Saturday and worked out with the team, running and shooting on the court. The NBA superstar was sidelined with a tear to his Achilles tendon in April, but his return to playing minutes during a game may still take some time, according to Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni.
Kobe Bryant's return to Lakers practices were downplayed by coach D'Antoni, who said the media coverage is "a little bit premature right now."
"There's a lot of steps to be taken, so I just think we need to be cautious," he told the Los Angeles Times. "There will be some struggles early. There's no way he comes back with everything. But at the same time, he is 10 percent better than most people."
Bryant, 35, averaged 27.3 points, six assists and 5.6 rebounds last season, but has only done some running and light shooting so far. Although he is only in month seven of a proposed nine-month recovery, he insisted that he was doing well, albeit under much less pressure than he is used to.
"The fadeaway still works, the ball-handling and being able to post. Those are things I can do right now. But it's not the playoffs, thank God," he told NBA TV. "If it was a playoff game tonight, I could play. I don't know how effective I'd be, but I would play."
The Lakers haven't had a stellar season so far, going 5-7 and relying on shooters like Jody Meeks, Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson, who all have over 40 percent from the 3-point line this season. But Kobe's teammates seem to be excited about his potential return anyway after seeing him in practice.
Instead of half speed, "it turned into 100 percent real fast. And Kobe was part of it," reserve guard Steve Blake said. "He looks like Kobe to me, basically. He's moving well, right back to his old self."
"He looked good and did a few moves I didn't expect him to do right away," center Pau Gasol told the Lakers' website.
Bryant credited some of his motivation to the continual skepticism surrounding his return and the "countless times they write [him] off." He also has a lot riding on his return performance- Kobe's contract is up this season, and he won't get another season payout of $30.5 million if he doesn't do well.
The Lakers have another practice Tuesday, which will help them gauge how Bryant's Achilles tendon will hold up under continued pressure. Their next game is against Golden State Friday, and Kobe is not expected to play.